EVERETT, Wash. -- The first case of Wuhan coronavirus has been reported in the United States, in Washington state, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday.
The novel virus, which was first identified last month in Wuhan, China, has so far infected more than 300 people and killed six, in an outbreak that has been reported in five countries -- now including the US.
The male patient is in isolation at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington. He is a resident of Snohomish County in Washington.
The man traveled alone from Wuhan to Washington, but he said he didn't attend the animal markets where many of the patients were infected.
“As our team of experts partners with infectious disease specialists locally, nationally and around the globe to learn more about the 2019 novel coronavirus, our first priority remains public safety,” said Washington State Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “We believe the risk to the public is low. And as this situation evolves, we will continue to communicate with the CDC, Snohomish County and the public.”
Officials are compiling a list of people the patient may have had contact with since his return to the United States. The Wuhan virus can spread person to person, but not nearly as easily as viruses such as measles or influenza.
Symptoms of the virus include fever and severe coughing, but local residents shouldn't assume they've contracted coronavirus unless they've recently visited China.
“Last night, the Snohomish Health District coordinated with local partners to safely transport the patient to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett. This is all being done following our jointly developed infectious disease protocols. No one wants to be the first in the nation in these types of situations, but these are the types of situations that public health and its partners train and prepare for. Because of this, everything has been going along quite smoothly,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, Health Officer, Snohomish Health District.
The CDC is not identifying the patient.
Authorities said the risk to the general public is low. Authorities are working on notifying anyone who may have come in contact with the man.
A CDC team was sent to Washington state to assist Snohomish County and the Washington Department of Health.
The CDC also announced on Tuesday that it will start screening passengers flying directly or indirectly from Wuhan to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Chicago O'Hare International Airport.
On January 17, the CDC began screening passengers arriving from Wuhan to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, followed by Los Angeles International Airport and San Francisco International Airport.
What is a coronavirus
Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses that are common among animals. In rare cases, they are what scientists call zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted from animals to humans, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The viruses can make people sick, usually with a mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illness, similar to a common cold. Coronavirus symptoms include a runny nose, cough, sore throat, possibly a headache and maybe a fever, which can last for a couple of days.
For those with a weakened immune system, the elderly and the very young, there's a chance the virus could cause a lower, and much more serious, respiratory tract illness like a pneumonia or bronchitis.
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6 people dead, 300 infected in China
The U.S. is the fifth country to report seeing the illness, following China, Thailand, Japan, and South Korea.
Late last week, U.S. health officials began screening passengers from central China at U.S. airports. Officials around the world have implemented similar airport screenings in hopes of containing the virus during the busy Lunar New Year travel season.
Last month, doctors began seeing a new type of viral pneumonia — fever, cough, difficulty breathing — in people who spent time at a food market in Wuhan. More than 275 cases of the newly identified coronavirus have been confirmed in China, most of them in Wuhan, according to the World Health Organization.
The count includes six deaths — all in China, most of them age 60 or older, including at least some who had a previous medical condition.
Officials have said it probably spread from animals to people, but this week Chinese officials said they've concluded it also can spread from person to person.
In announcing the airport screenings last week, CDC officials said then risk to the American public was low but that it was likely the illness would appear in the U.S. at some point.
Wire services contributed to this report.